Senior status in travel isn't what it used to be. Gone are those golden days of airline senior coupons and senior clubs, of 30 percent hotel discounts and such. As the bookend to my earlier column on how seniors fared in 2013, my view of 2014 shows comparatively few improved opportunities for seniors to take advantage of their senior status.
Airfares: As far as I can tell, the only domestic airline with a meaningful senior deal is Southwest, and even that isn't as good as the many options the line offers to travelers of any age. Basically, Southwest's senior deal is a reduction from the any-age fare for an unrestricted ticket. And if you need an unrestricted ticket -- typically refundable, and within seven days of travel -- it's welcome. But if you plan your trips ahead, like most folks, you can do better with a ticket anyone can use. Here's an example of one-way fares in mid-February from Chicago to Las Vegas: $523 unrestricted for anyone, $285 unrestricted senior and $190 restricted for anyone.
As to the other airlines, last year British Airways offered modest discounts to AARP members for a short period. Beyond that, as far as I can tell, seniors get no other special deals.
Rail travel: Amtrak continues to offer seniors age 62 or older 15 percent off the lowest available fare, excluding the Auto Train, weekday high-speed Acela trains, business or first class and sleeping accommodations. Members of AARP below 62 years can get 10 percent discounts, with the same exceptions.
Via Rail Canada offers varying discounts for seniors age 60 or older that apply to "economy plus" fares, as well as sleeper and touring fares. But Via Rail frequently offers much bigger "express" discounts to travelers of any age.
Rail Europe offers senior rail passes to travelers 60 or older in France, Ireland, Romania and the U.K. The French senior deal is very good: A first-class senior pass for just a bit more than the any-age second-class pass, and all passes in Ireland and Romania, are in the same class. In the U.K., however, even with the discount, the senior pass, in first class only, is more expensive than the standard class any-age pass. Seniors who expect to travel extensively in France or the U.K. can buy yearly discount cards: The French Carte Senior, 60 euros (about $80), gives 25 percent to 50 percent discounts on all trains, with 40 percent on first class; the British Senior Railcard, 30 pounds (about $50), gives 33 percent discounts on all tickets.
Public transit in many U.S. cities offers half-price fares to seniors 65 or over (often with just a Medicare card), and transit is free to seniors in Pennsylvania.
Hotels: Several major multibrand chains offer senior deals. Choice gives "up to 10 percent" to seniors 60 or older or AARP members, with some extras; Hilton gives "up to 5 percent" off to AARP members; Hyatt gives "up to 10 percent" off to AARP members; Starwood offers some senior and AARP rates, but local promotional rates are often better; Wyndham gives 10 percent to seniors 60 or older and "up to 20 percent" for AARP members; Best Western, Motel 6 and many other chains, resorts, and individual hotels offer similar discounts. As usual, short-term hotel promotions and opaque buying (Hotwire or Priceline) frequently beat modest senior discounts.
Car rentals: AARP has narrowed its rental car deals to just two corporations. The Avis/Budget discounts are typical, at 10 percent to 25 percent, but the AARP deal includes a $5,000 cap on damage claims and 25/50/10 liability insurance, much better than state minimums, as well as a waiver of the additional driver fee. The Payless deal, 5 percent discounts and a waiver of the additional driver fee, is less attractive.
Other: Lots of other suppliers offer modest senior discounts, ranging from tour operators to restaurants. As always, look for a great any-age deal before you accept a modest senior discount.
Contact Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.